Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I Have Learned About Money - Part One

As the completion of my training approached, I noticed that people began asking me a lot of the same questions.

"Are you going to buy a house?"  
"Are you going to buy a new car?" 
"Where are you going to travel during your vacation?"
"How are you going to reward yourself for finishing?"

The message being that, now that I'm a "real" doctor, I can (should?) start spending like one.  Looking at my Facebook feed over the past few years, it's obvious that many of my classmates have taken that approach since completing residency, as they've posted pictures of giant new homes and fancy cars and trips to exotic locations (usually complete with shopping at designer boutiques and eating in pricy restaurants*).

If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would have told you that my plans for post-training were similar.  I was definitely dreaming about owning my own home (which in my mind would miraculously not require any repairs or maintenance), and I could think of many places to which I wanted to travel and restaurants in which I wanted to eat.  But then came the unexpected work crisis, followed by the adoption of a budget.  While the initial motivation for putting myself on a budget was purely practical (eliminate crippling debt!), sticking to a budget over time (and reading lots of great frugal blogs) has taught me a lot of unexpected things about money and my relationship to it.

Money isn't necessary to have fun (and can sometimes make things less fun): 

Prior to the "great budget experiment", I did mostly the same three things for entertainment (eating in restaurants, going to movies, sitting in coffee shops/pubs).  While I enjoy all of these things and haven't stopped doing any of them entirely, there was a certain monotony to how I entertained myself.  With the introduction of the budget, I had to get creative in order to have fun without spending much (or ideally any) money.  Some of the things I've done for fun in the last year include potlucks (brunch, supper, appetizers), volunteering at a music festival (free tickets!), volunteering at a theatre festival (more free tickets!), free walking tours of my city, free movies in a local park, cycling (with a discarded bike that my girlfriend repaired for me), reading library books, attending free lectures at a local bookstore, and going to a snake pit to watch snakes mate (perfect activity for a nerd like me).  While all of these free/inexpensive activities were available to me before, having the constraint of a budget made me actually look for them.  I've enjoyed the new variety, and I've met a lot of interesting people through volunteering whom I never would've met otherwise.

More things make me less happy:

The message is everywhere (tv, magazines, websites) that having more things will make us happier (and more fulfilled/more successful/more desirable).  Since starting a budget ten months ago, I've bought almost no things for myself (a bike helmet was probably my largest purchase), and I honestly haven't felt like I'm missing anything.  I've also done a major purge of my apartment and gotten rid of about 10 garbage bags worth of stuff, and it feels wonderful to be free of so much clutter.  Fewer things allow me to hang my jacket in the hall closet instead of over the back of a chair, to open cupboards without canned food falling on my head, and to actually find my bloody keys when I go looking for them in the morning.  Life is better with less stuff.

It's easy to waste a lot of money:

Pre-budget, I was stopping at Starbucks on most days (sometimes twice), buying all of my lunches at work, and getting takeout whenever I was bored/tired/in a hurry/feeling like celebrating/not interested in the food in my fridge.  I was easily spending hundreds of dollars a month on convenience items, all of which was being paid for with credit.  I've cut out all of these things pretty much entirely (I still spend $1.70 on tea from Tim Horton's on work days), and I barely even notice.

There are more things that I've learned about money, which will have to wait for another day, as it's time to change out of my sweatpants (yay vacation!) and go pick up my girlfriend.

How have your thoughts/feelings about money changed over the years?

*Okay, I'll admit it:  I love eating in pricy restaurants.  I will make a major splurge on a celebratory dinner once I get my first paycheque, and I will enjoy every bite and sip of it because it's been so long since I've visited my favourite restaurant.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


My girlfriend is part of a very tightly knit church community; I, as an atheist, clearly am not.  In the beginning, we thought that this might be a major issue in our relationship, but it hasn't proven to be nearly as problematic as we had feared.  The other church members have been almost universally welcoming to me, despite the fact that their faith does not officially sanction same-sex relationships (and is certainly not in support of same-sex marriage).  I've eaten meals with church members, cuddled their children, and even attended a few services without bursting into flames.  All has gone very well.

Occasionally, however, issues do arise.  One of the biggest has been the issue of "small group", which is a group of church members who meet every few weeks to share a meal and discussion of their faith.  This is a major social and community event for my girlfriend, as well as for her family, with whom I've grown quite close over the past year and a half.  Because the group members discuss things that are going on in their lives (including personal struggles and disappointments), the events are closed to "outsiders" to encourage openness and honesty.  Which means that I, the atheist, am not invited.

And sometimes this feels hard.  It's difficult to be excluded from something that is so central to my girlfriend's life, especially when all of the other family members (including my girlfriend's new sister-in-law) are automatically included*.  And yet, aside from my relationship to my girlfriend, I don't really have a right or a reason to be there.  I'm certainly not going to contribute anything to the bible study, and it would only be awkward if the group offered to pray for me after I told them of something difficult in my life.  I don't quite know whether I should just accept the status quo, or force myself on a group to which I may not even want to belong.

Any thoughts?

*Not to mention the food I'm missing out on.  Perogies!  Farmer's sausage!  Baking in all its myriad of forms!  These people are amazing cooks.

Monday, July 27, 2015

21 Days

I had expected my vacation to be laid-back and leisurely, with an abundance of time for sleeping in and reading and doing whatever in the world I wanted to do.  Not so much.  Until now, I've kept myself busy with house and work tasks, with volunteering at our local music festival, and with attending way too many shows at our local Fringe (theatre) Festival.  It has been wonderful to have a change from work, but the time has still felt too busy, and I've often caught myself complaining to the girlfriend about being tired*.

All of that is about to change.  The festivals are over, the majority of the house/work tasks have been completed, and I have an almost completely empty schedule for the last 21 days of my vacation.  Day one of this phase of vacation has so far consisted of sleeping in, eating homemade Mexican breakfast and kale smoothies with the girlfriend, watching Master Chef, and trying to satisfy Hobbes's insatiable need for cuddles.

Why aren't you cuddling me?

My "plan" for this last stretch of holidays is to  To not have a long list of things to do**.  To not constantly rush from one place to the next.  To not obsessively plan every moment or worry that I'm not making effective use of my time.  To stop being the busy, stressed out person that medicine turned me into and be the relaxed, happy person that I used to be.

My hope is that, if I can remember how to focus on enjoying life instead of just getting through it, I can carry some of that knowledge forward into the next year.  I know that my first year as an attending is going to be a hard one, and that I will be stressed and overworked more often than I want to be, but I really don't want to hate it.  I want to remember to breathe and be present and take time.  To enjoy this stage that I worked so, so hard for 16 years to reach.

To just be.

*Note to self:  It isn't wise to complain to your girlfriend who works on her feet for eight hours a day about being tired while you're on vacation.  Her sympathy is very limited.  And she will expect you to rub her feet as penance.

*The one "goal" that I am setting for myself is to blog daily for the next 21 days.  I have missed the act of regularly writing here, and I have a seemingly constant stream of ideas for blog posts running through my head, so I want to get back into the habit of writing while I have an excess of time.  If there's anything you want to know about me or my experiences as a physician/a previously single person/a queer person/a theatre groupie, leave me a comment and let me know.  I'm sure I'll be looking for some blog fodder by the time the 21 days are up!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Going Into The Woods

It's the middle of the day on Friday, and when I would normally be finishing up my work for the week, I am instead lounging in a chair in the middle of a forest. After years of wanting to spend the entire weekend (four days actually) at my city's annual music festival, but being unable to do so because of work, I am now here. All weekend. It's wonderful.

Before I took time off, people kept asking me "Won't you get bored?" and "What will you do for seven weeks?"  I'm happy to report that, two weeks in, I've not for a significant period of time felt bored or at a loss for things to do. I've submitted all of the paperwork necessary to work as a real doctor; I've tackled the mammoth job of reorganizing my small apartment (which hasn't been organized in five years); I've crossed off multiple nagging tasks from my to do list (in some cases, after they've been there for literally years). While my holiday so far hasn't been the most exciting, it's given me a sense of accomplishment to do many of the things I've been putting off for far too long. And, as long as I can keep up with some of these things (e.g. the organization), they'll help me to be happier in the long term.

With respect to long-term happiness, I've also just finished reading Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project.  This time between fellowship and work feels quite liminal, so it seems only natural to devote a significant amount of it to thinking about important things like happiness. While I'm not prepared to follow in Gretchen's footsteps and embark on a year of resolutions to make me happier, I do think she has some good ideas that may be worth incorporating into my life. First of these is her command to "Be Gretchen", meaning to be honest with yourself about what makes you happy and to invest time in those things, rather than investing time in the things you think you should like.

To that end, while basking in the warm sun and listening to an assortment of banjos and ukuleles, I've started compiling my own "happiness list". Some of my things?

-  spending quality time with my girlfriend/other people
-  reading, especially if it's a book that changes my way of thinking/living in a positive way
-  exercise, especially in the morning before work (Who would have ever thought?)
-  getting a good night sleep
-  doing nice things for other people (e.g. visiting my grandma)
-  keeping a clean and organized apartment
-  listening to good music
-  being in nature
-  taking care of nagging tasks
-  eating (especially healthy things)
-  sticking to a budget
-  napping
-  cuddling
-  petting my cats
-  going to good movies
-  being silly/laughing
-  sitting in coffee shops
-  taking pictures of grain elevators/old buildings
-  road trips
-  bike riding
-  looking at recipes/cooking

What's on your "happiness list"?

Saturday, June 27, 2015


After nine consecutive years of medical training (16 years total of post-secondary training), I finally finished last Thursday.  When asked what I do for a living, I no longer have to hem and haw, awkwardly describing myself as an "almost doctor" or "doctor-in-training" or "resident doctor" or "fellow" (what the heck is a fellow?).  I am simply a doctor.  Full stop.

I am a strange mix of exhausted, burnt out, humbled, ecstatic, terrified, and proud.  I've slept poorly ever since finishing, because I am constantly thinking about this new state of being and what it means to me.  I'm not quite sure.  I don't even fully know what comes next, although there is a preliminary contract sitting unsigned on my desk.

At the very least, I know that I have seven weeks off.  I plan to sleep and eat and laugh and daydream and cram in as many of the things that I have said no to over the past nine years as I possibly can.  I feel so, so lucky to have this space and time for the first time in far too many years. 

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Screwing Up

There's a resident who is a few years younger than me with whom I've always enjoyed working and whom I would like to get to know outside of work.  Her boyfriend is a huge fan of board games, as am I, so long ago she promised to invite me to her house the next time they hosted a games night.  A few weeks ago the invitation finally came, and I was looking forward to meeting her boyfriend and bringing some tasty snacks.

This morning, I was driving home from dropping the girlfriend off at work, when I saw a sign advertising monthly games nights.  My first thought was "Oooh!  I love games nights!".  My second thought, accompanied by the horrible feeling that I might spontaneously vomit all over the inside of my car, was "OMFG.  Games night was last night."

Yes, after waiting for months, I had managed to completely forget about games night.  It was in my calendar; I had reminded the girlfriend about it earlier in the week; I had even thought about what to bring on Friday night.  But when the day actually arrived, I'd gotten lost in dreading the multiple presentations that I have scheduled for this week and dreaming about my last day of work*, and all thoughts of games night completely slipped my mind.

This, sadly, isn't the first time I've done something like this.  As a teenager, I twice (TWICE) forgot to go to my regularly scheduled after-school babysitting job.  In my working life, I've more than once forgotten to go important meetings, usually involving the boss and a collection of bigwigs.  A year ago, I forgot to attend morning case conference, where I was scheduled to present one of the patients.


It's not that I'm an idiot.  It's not that I don't put these things into my calendar or check my calendar regularly.  It's that I get caught up with something else and completely lose track of where I'm supposed to be.  And I hate it.  After writing a very long apology to the resident, I've spent my day today feeling like a total shit who can't do anything right.

Guess it's time to start setting reminders on my iPhone.

*Thursday.  Exactly 95 hours at the time of writing this (check the counter below the Blog Archive for the most recent update.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Things I Learned on My Vacation (Most of Which I Already Knew)

Today is my last full day in New Brunswick, and I've snuck away to the sitting room for a few minutes of silence.  In other parts of the house, my almost-90-year-old grandmother is playing classic show tunes on the piano, my aunt is spinning tales while chopping a seemingly endless pile of vegetables, and my Mom is laughing at my aunt while frying 5 pounds of scallops* for Coquilles Saint-Jacques.  While I know that these are the sounds of life and love and family, I do find myself pining for the relative quiet of the one-bedroom apartment that I share with my love (and two asshole felines).

As it's almost the end of my trip, rather than recount the details of my travel that are interesting to no one but myself, I thought I'd share a few observations that I've made in my time away from home.

1)  I hate being away from my girlfriend:  She stayed back at home because of work (and being hesitant to meet all of my family simultaneously at a wedding), and I have missed her every single day.  I miss rolling over to stare at her in the morning, waiting for her to wake up so that I can cuddle with her and tell her my dreams.  I miss coming home to her at night and hearing about her day.  I miss spending way too much time cooking supper with her and then being too lazy to clean up the kitchen afterwards.  I'm clearly smitten.

2)  I am unquestionably an introvert:  My Maritime family is large...and loud.  There is always someone around, and they are usually moving at top speed within a cloud of noise and chaos.  As much as I love them, my introverted self has found it a bit overwhelming, and I've had to hide away from people on a regular basis.  My Mom and I spent three nights alone at my grandmother's cottage, and I could feel myself recharging in the stillness and quiet.

3)  I pack too much stuff when I travel:  I had planned to go more minimalist and pack only my medium-sized suitcase (from a set of three), but my Mom asked me to bring out the largest one so that she could "bring some stuff back with her".  No longer constrained by space, I found myself throwing in all kinds of things I was never going to use - a second dress (getting me into a dress for a wedding is miracle enough), a fourth pair of shoes, multiple pairs of dress pants.  It's ridiculous, especially because we've changed location five times in ten days, and I've had to carry the stupidly heavy suitcase up and down multiple flights of stairs.  In the future, I'm bringing one outfit and washing it in the sink every night.

4)  I need very little to be happy:  My vacation has included lots of exciting things, like trips to Peggy's Cove and Lunenburg, a tour of an artisinal distillery, and many fancy meals out.  My favourite moments though?  Waking up to the sounds of shorebirds outside my bedroom window.  Cuddling with my cousin's adorable one-year-old daughter.  Lying on the couch where my grandfather used to nap every day after lunch.  When traveling in the future, I need to remember that it's the simple things that I most enjoy.

And now the doorbell has rung, bringing another group of relatives into the home.  Time for me to make nice and play the extrovert for a while**. 

*The scallops were supposed to have been taken home with us and eaten over weeks to months, but there was a malfunction of the system to keep them frozen, so instead we're binge-eating scallops.  Life is hard.

**I was going to include photos, but I think my Mom will kill me if I hide away any longer.  A photo post is coming soon!